Freshlyground’s female duo
As their fifth album is released, Zolani Mahola and Kyla-Rose Smith of Freshlyground chat to fellow female muso Zaki Ibrahim about independence, jealousy, dancing and their worst interview question ever.
Zaki Ibrahim: Kyla-Rose, I remember you from back in the hip-hop days, when you were the violinist with Tumi and the Volume, the cutest member of the band by far… and Zo, I’ve seen you smiling through what seems to be an enjoyable journey as a musician and actor… just such a positive presence, on and off stage.
Both of you have been shining brightly for South Africa and for us up-and-coming musicians.
We continue to look toward you as beacons, paving a happy path.
Kyla: Thanks for that – easy to be the cutest when you are the only girl. I must say I really enjoyed your album.
I saw you for the first time at Rocking the Daisies festival in October and I was blown away by your performance – so props to you too, girl!
Thanks! So, here’s what I want to know: What do you think is the most apparent or significant lesson or change you’ve seen in yourself over the last 10 years?
Zolani: I know my self-worth more.
I have also learnt to appreciate what issues are mine and which stem from other people’s projections.
I used to be very concerned about what people thought about every aspect of my performance.
Now I’m more circumspect. Not everybody is rooting for you and everyone has their own devils to contend with.
Kyla: The biggest lesson for me has been learning to deal with other people in close environments for long periods of time – a lesson of other’s strength and weaknesses and my own, too.
Is life getting easier or harder as musicians?
Zolani: It’s becoming clearer that musicians need to look after all affairs of their businesses.
So in that sense, it’s easier because there is greater scope for individual expression.
However, it’s also harder be-cause the responsibility falls that much more on the artist’s shoulders.
Kyla: The decision to leave the fold of a major record label and go independent this year has been quite a scary one, but it’s also allowed us the freedom to be in charge of all facets of the business. So that feels really good.
I don’t know if it is ever easy, but I have learnt to deal better with the hard moments.
I’m trying not to take on too much, on a personal level.
I’ve learnt to roll with the punches – and when I get knocked down, I just stand up and try again.
As the only women in the group, how would you describe your relationship?
Zolani: We have grown much closer over the years.
Women are very complicated, but we work it out and always end up smiling!
I’ve definitely been jealous of Kyla… who wouldn’t be, when you have such a strong beautiful bandmate at your side pulling all the hot guys!
It is inevitable that tempers flare, but that hasn’t been the females in the group at all.
There have been tears from all corners, but it’s getting better.
Kyla: Zo and I work hard to understand each other.
Just because we’re women doesn’t mean we al-ways feel the same way about things.
People are different and I think there is a belief that women should always stick together no matter what, but sometimes there is a difference of opinion and I think over the years we have come to realise that that is okay.
Sometimes it is tough, especially as Zo is the star, yet we are on stage together.
There are times where I feel like a sidekick – but that’s my ego.
It’s natural for your ego to rear its ugly head every now and again.
The overwhelming feeling I have about sharing a stage and space with Zo is that I am honoured.
She is truly one of the most talented and inspiring individuals I have ever known and I am blessed.
She has taught me a lot about relating to people and I am glad that our connection grows stronger as we grow older.
What would you say each other’s strength and weaknesses are?
Zolani: I don’t believe in weaknesses when discussing your friends, but I do see a lot of strengths in Kyla.
She is very opinionated and headstrong, but there is also a gentleness and sweetness in her that is such a delight to see.
She is bright and clear and she takes her craft very seriously.
Kyla: People open up to Zo so easily, she has a warmth about her which just makes everyone melt in her presence.
I am constantly amazed by it and also put in my place, as I am quite different – in fact, sometimes completely the opposite.
How do you resolve disagreements?
Zolani: We do a lot of talking and negotiating in order to find a solution that works for all.
In a way we do a lot of informal group work. Sometimes it feels as though we talk more than we perform!
Disagreements are not always work-related.
With such a big group someone always feels something and has to be stroked a bit before we can start playing again.
Kyla: We are big talkers. Debate and open discussion play a big role in the running of our business.
Holding grudges just gets nasty later on.
If there are issues within the group – even just between two members – it definitely affects us all.
It is inevitable that with all the hard work we do, the travelling, the intensity of spending most of your time with seven people, there will be conflict and bad patches, but we definitely recognise the value in resolving issues as quickly as we can.
How would you describe your new album, Take Me to the Dance?
Zolani: It is more experimental than our other albums and we gave ourselves a lot of freedom to just play.
I guess this has allowed the album to turn out really fresh and it makes us all really happy!
Kyla: We give everyone the chance to express their individual creativity in this album.
We made time and space for that to happen and I think the result is one of the best collections of songs we have created as a group.
When was the last time you danced?
Zolani: A few weekends ago at my friend’s wedding on a wine farm in the Western Cape.
It was quite beautiful because it was an Afrikaans bride and a Zulu husband. Absolutely lovely dancing to top-40 tunes with such a wonderful blend of South Africans.
Kyla: Just the other night I was bemoaning the fact that there is nowhere to have a good dance any-more.
I remember the days of 206 on Louis Botha where I would dance the weekends away to bands like Max Normal and Moodphase 5.
What’s your least favorite interview question?
Zolani: To be honest, I am not really sure.
None of them have stood out enough to be stored in my memory bank!
Kyla: ‘How did you get your name?’ It’s a boring answer and a question that has been asked so many times.
So how did you guys get your name?
Both: Ha ha!
What are you most proud of as South Africans?
Zolani: That as a young Xhosa woman I am free to live wherever I want, love whomever I want and explore my creativity as I want to.
These freedoms were hard won and I am grateful to those who came before me for providing them.
Kyla: We have come through an incredibly dark history and have emerged on the other side.
That’s not to say it is all rosy, but we should really take the time to see how far history has brought us.
I believe that as South Africans we all have a duty to make this country the image of the place we imagine it should be.
What frustrates you?
Zolani: That education seems to be a low priority in South Africa – and I’m upset at how many liquor outlets there a
re in the townships.
Kyla: The grinding poverty that so many South Africans have to endure.
What brings you the most joy?
Zolani: I love seeing children playing.
Kyla: A good conversation, laughter, the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.
These are days when I feel it’s just good to be alive.
Touring can take a toll on your body and mind.
What do you do to stay healthy, centred and sane?
Zolani: I drink lots of water, meditate and do yoga to help maintain a balanced mental and emotional state on tour.
Kyla: I try to live a healthy lifestyle. I exercise – walking in nature and yoga.
And I love a good night’s sleep.
How do you decide what you will and won’t do as artists?
Zolani: Mostly it has to do with whether or not the activity aligns with the brand you have established and whether or not it compromises my integrity as an artist.
Kyla: I won’t do anything that I feel compromises my personal values or beliefs.
I think that as a group we have a strong identity and we do subscribe to certain values that have to do with self-love and self-worth – loving yourself as you are and finding the best in yourself.
What is your idea of success?
Zolani: Being able to look at myself in the mirror and know that what I’ve done has been to the best of my ability.
Also, success means being the best person I can be in all situations at all times.
Kyla: Feeling I am really fulfilling myself as a creative – being able to dabble and express myself on all the creative platforms that I have in mind and making my dreams come true.
Where do you see yourself in two years’ time?
Zolani: I see myself married with children and enjoying the fruits of an incredibly successful new al-bum.
What advice can you give up-and-coming artists?
Zolani: I would say find your own voice and don’t be afraid to be who you are.
Kyla: Be true to yourself and believe in what you have to offer.
Since the industry is still on a big learning curve, there is a lot of room for experimentation.
That’s really exciting.
It’s not always easy, but the opportunities are there – you just have to create them.
» Take Me To The Dance (R99.99) is available in select Pick n Pay stores nationwide and online at www.freshlyground.com, Amazon.com and iTunes.
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